From wood-fired meats and fish to European-inspired small plates to East Coast-influenced hero sandwiches, area diners have a wealth of new choices when it comes to eating out. Emerald Lounge, Gus Gus and Momento are among the new restaurants to open locally. And with masks and proof-of-vaccination requirements now off the table, restaurant owners are optimistic that pent-up demand will help fill up their dining rooms.
The owners of two Claddaugh coffee shops have branched out with a full-service bistro in a former yoga studio next door to their West End Claddaugh at 455 W. Seventh St. Molly Bard and Amanda Caruso work the coffee bar most days until 2 p.m., then stroll over to Emerald to prepare for its 4 p.m. opening. “We wanted it to be small and cozy,” Bard said of the 35-seat eatery. “We wanted everyone to feel welcome,” including the nurses in their scrubs who work nearby.
The back part of the Emerald resembles a homey living room with wool Oriental rugs, upholstered easy chairs, large plants and black-and-white family portraits. Although the word “lounge” connotes a tavern or bar, Emerald is very much a restaurant with a chef-driven menu developed by consultant Marc Paavalo that is suitable for both snacking and full dinners.
Executive chef Phosalae Suriyasak most recently managed a wine bar in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Among the dishes are a savory double-crust butternut squash hand pie with goat cheese and caramelized onion, shrimp and grits, a classic French croque monsieur, and a braised pork shank with potato puree, buttered peas and carrots. A la carte prices range from $5-$18.
The drinks menu includes original cocktails, European wines, five bottled beers, ciders, seasonal hot drinks and two non-alcoholic cocktails under the “Temperance” column. Bard expects to add happy hour specials at a later date.
Another cozy neighborhood bistro, Gus Gus has opened for dinner and weekend brunch in the former Stewart’s space at 128 N. Cleveland Ave. Owners Anna Morgan and her chef-husband Kevin Manley previously worked at the Snack Bar in Minneapolis.
Gus Gus features mostly small plates, such as venison cheddarwurst with apple slaw; tomato, porcini and grilled eggplant on fried bread; and poutine of fried gnocchi, braised oxtail and cheese curds. The small plates portion of the menu has a la carte prices ranging from $8-$15.
Larger plates include a double cheeseburger with caramelized onion, mustard aioli and fries, reminiscent of the one served at Stewart’s; sea bass over white bean ragu; and sirloin steak with herb butter and buttermilk fried onions. Large plate prices range from $16-$26.
Gus Gus serves wine and beer and plans to add happy hour specials soon. Hours are 4-10 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
Morrissey Hospitality has opened Momento, a contemporary American restaurant in a portion of the space formerly occupied by Pazzaluna, 360 Saint Peter St. Wood-fired meats and fish are the signature items on the introductory menu, which Momento intends to eventually broaden.
“Morrissey Hospitality is thrilled to reinvest in downtown Saint Paul and relight this corner,” said Morrissey president Richard Dobransky. “We’ve had the fortunate opportunity to remain in this location as restaurant operators for over 23 years, with the last few being the toughest. During this time, we’ve gained valuable knowledge inwhat comes next for restaurants in major entertainment districts, and we were able to pivot the business for the future.”
Momento’s wood-fired specialties include chicken wings with a dry rub and blue cheese dipping sauce, and salmon with Calabrian chili honey, polenta and broccolini. Diners also may add wood-fired shrimp or salmon to any salad.
Main courses include burgers on brioche buns, pizza “of the moment,” a jumbo shrimp po’ boy, and chicken brie brulee with roasted cauliflower and sweet potato hash. Prices for entrées range from $12.50-$24.50.
Momento is open from 4-9 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and until 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. “We plan to launch a bigger menu and upgrades for the patio dining experience in late April or May,” Dobransky said. Additional hours and an expansion of the dining area are planned for later this year.
Pizza, hero sandwiches and doughnuts will be served at Mario’s, a fast-casual restaurant that will open soon in the space formerly occupied by Tilly’s Farmhouse, 232 N. Cleveland Ave. Partners Jason Hansen and Peter Sebastian, who also own Estelle on Saint Clair Avenue, said their concept for Mario’s is a new twist on the pizzerias and submarine sandwich shops currently found in the Twin Cities.
Mario’s will have one-size pizzas baked in 10-by-14-inch pans in a gas deck oven. The main ingredients are a non-bromated flour for the crust and organic tomatoes supplied by Pizza Bianco in Phoenix. “I love simple pizzas that are straightforward,” Hansen said.
The bread for the hero sandwiches will be made in-house according to a formula heavily influenced by the Italian delis in New York City. The roast beef will also be prepared from scratch in-house. Other sandwich options include turkey, Italian cured meats and marinated artichokes.
For dessert or a snack, Mario’s will make two flavors of zeppole, Italian filled doughnuts that will be sold in bags of five. Beverages include beer, wine, coffee and kombucha, a fermented sweet tea.
Customers will order their food at the counter. The dining room is vintage 1970s. A small patio is also planned.
— Carolyn Walkup
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